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The Edusites’ Guide to ‘The Merchant’s Tale’

Richard Gent | Friday September 30, 2022

Categories: KS5 Resources, KS5 Literature, Poetry, Chaucer

Excerpt from The Introduction

Geoffrey Chaucer wrote 'The Canterbury Tales' at the end of his life and career in the 1390s, the end of the C14th. He was a scion of the post conquest upper middle class, now integrated and 'modern' in the context of the time. He had been a soldier and diplomat and was later a royal servant and pension holder. He was married but lived apart from his wife for most of their married life. He wrote the Tales to amuse himself and his friends: it was intended that they should be read aloud and possibly acted out in a simple sense. There is certainly plenty within them that is highly dramatic, as numerous subsequent adaptations have proved. Their preservation is in good measure due to the development of printing technology in the following century by William Caxton who set up England's first effective press in London.

The tales are written in iambic pentameter (five double beats to the line) and you should work out where they fall before you read the text. Be warned! Sometimes all the vowels, especially the E are not pronounced. The Y sound (as in flighty) is always pronounced. The critical issue is to find the rhythm through the rhyme to then see exactly where the emphasis falls. Try it in class: it can be great fun.

Chaucer re-worked a range of classical rhetorical devices to add range, richness and a variety of voices to the tales: in this tale we will meet:-

  • Auctoritee: expert endorsement (often used ironically in this Tale and much argued over and disputed)
  • Apostrophe: often violent exclamation
  • Sententia: proverbs, maxims, here often pompous or used for self advertisement
  • Circumlocutio: forms of…

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Kind regards, Richard Gent
Edusites Ltd

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